Author Trigger Warning: This is not light reading on the topic of cancer. It is what I have had to live through with the disease as I continue to fight for a cure. If you truly want to understand what it is like for a patient to go through this journey from the inside, then read on. If you are not prepared for the sort of darkness this disease brings it may be best you pass on reading this post.
March 23, 2017. 9:27am
That was the exact time my life changed forever. I went to the doctor with something that for over two months had been eating away at my normal life. Before I walked into that office on that fateful day, I had been slipping in my day to day activities. I walked down a long hall at my work literally leaning against the wall. My knees often buckled when I rose from my seat. I tried to make myself eat lunch, buying the smallest amount of food that seemed at the time I purchased it would be enticing enough to eat – it often wasn’t and I’d stop only after a few bites. Nothing tasted right. I knew something was horribly, horribly wrong. For over a month I hid it from my husband. I said nothing, I just did my best to shower and get ready for work and slowly crept out of the bedroom and with wobbly knees I was so unsure of I made my way slowly down the staircase to the car (once seated I was safe for the journey) and then I drove myself to work.
My day to day for the first two months of that year were sketchy. Thankfully, being a network engineer I didn’t have to visit too many people at their desks when things went awry. I could use remote technology to remotely control their systems and rectify the situation. If it warranted further assistance we had it within our power to ask for one of the operations crew to make the physical visitation to assist. So, for the most part I could stay rooted to my chair and desk while I continued to play that things were still somewhat normal. Lunchtimes soon turned into me just putting down the back seat of my car and trying to rest for a half hour or so to gather my energy to finish the day. Once the trek to my car was so bad I nearly fainted in the parking lot. I was scared to the point of absolute silence over what I was dealing with. I tried every way to do things as normally as I could.
It was a lie I told myself. Because I desperately wanted it to be true.
Have you ever watched Lord of the Rings? I’m sure you have. It’s one of my favorite series of films. But lately I’ve come to see it analogous to my diagnosis of cancer.
I even had a moment like Frodo, Aragorn, Gimli, and Gandalf (with the others) at the Mines of Moria where they struggled to find the phrase to open the gates and enter. I called my doctor with the symptoms I’d been having. This was in February. I explained everything that I was dealing with and the scheduling nurse informed me that it would be three weeks before I could see him. I took the appointment. What else could I do? I asked that if there were a cancellation please call me and let me know.
When I saw the doctor on that fateful day, and his preliminary examination startled him, he asked why I had not informed the nurse of the severity of my situation. I told him what I said and he shook his head and murmured something about how they want to hear a certain phrase that would escalate the necessity for an earlier appointment. Somehow I missed the memo on that secret decoder ring phrase that would have gotten me an appoint sooner. I grumbled a bit inside, casting a heated gaze at my husband along the way but it was what it was. We had to deal with where we were at that time. But after he had me wheeled down for the ultra sound it was confirmed, I had a tumor and it was most likely cancerous.
I had no feeling about it. I couldn’t grasp onto anything inside to tell me how to feel about those words from his mouth. I just nodded and glanced at my husband but said nothing. Flash back a year ago and I was eating breakfast at the dining room table, my granddaughter was watching cartoons (it was a Saturday morning) and I remember as I finished up something in the back of my mind said, “You’ve got cancer …” I had to no reason to think that. I felt fine.
It was fleeting and I soon forgot about it. But I recalled it the moment the confirmation of my disease left the doctor’s mouth. I think this is why I couldn’t grasp at anything to express what was building inside over this shocking diagnosis. The next thing he said was that on Monday, the 26th, (this was a Friday morning) he wanted me at the hospital for surgery to remove the tumor. I had two days to prepare over the weekend. Now, up to this point I did everything in my life to avoid being in hospitals. No broken bones, no prolonged diseases or ailments that would require a stay in a hospital of any kind. I detested being there – even to visit others. Now, at 52, I was going to have my first operation. I was terrified.
But I dutifully went to the appointment, went through the process of being prepped for the surgery and even tried joking with the nurses while I was being prepped. Oddly enough, it was an outpatient surgery. As soon as I came out of it I was sent home. Two days later I was back at work. It all seemed so surreal. A part of me was missing, the cancerous part, but still it was something I was born with that was now taken from me – leaving me marked as some sort of freak. It was then that the cancer began to voice itself. Like Smeagol, Gollum began to whisper to me.
“I have you now, my precious …” Don’t laugh. It felt very real. I walked around much better and was able to start eating again in a normal fashion. But still that voice that I had cancer lingered. I knew the battle was far from over. In a week’s time from the initial surgery I had to go for a PET scan to see what residual cancerous cells still existed. This was news to me. I didn’t know that I could have it elsewhere once the tumor had been removed. The PET scan revealed that I had cancerous cells in various places along a chain of lymph nodes that lead to where the tumor was. I would have to have chemo treatment to eradicate them from my system.
The good news, according to my oncologist and my husband (who has a medical background having practiced medicine early in his career) was that the type of cancer I had was 98% curable. I had one of the “good ones” …
Nothing felt great about it. There was no “good” in any of this.
And still that Gollum voice raged inside … with over tones of Darth Vader: I have you now … don’t think you’ll get away that easy.
Slowly I informed a few people I trusted at work what I had. Luckily, the company was a big advocate for cancer (often having huge company wide drives to donate for research for the disease and for additional resources to be funded). One of the programmers, a Brit ex-pat who I got along with came over and revealed to me he was dealing with stage 4 colon cancer. But his prognosis was excellent, he was beating the cancer. He told me that if I ever wanted to talk – during lunch or whatever – he was there for me. Then he gave me two points to take to heart: 1) Allow myself to feel (without guilt of any kind) what I wanted to feel; and 2) Find a support group – “You’ll need them more than you know.”
I have followed his advice on those two profound points and it has what’s kept me sane through out this long battle I’ve been on.
So where’s the darkness I warned of?
It’s been here all along. It whispers to me. When I cut up an apple to have as a mid-day snack, it whispers, “Enjoy this, it might be the last time you eat one.” When I’ve been writing, working on my latest novel, I type out a couple of thousand words and then I feel the need to nap, it’s there too, whispering, “Can’t keep up with what you used to do, huh?” I don’t sleep soundly now. Even with the drugs my oncologist prescribes to assist with that. It’s a restless sleep – with that Gollum voice ear worming into your mind terrible thoughts of how others close to you will deal with your death. You panic, you toss and turn trying to shut it down, find some sort of peace from the constant whispering that it does.
You know what else it does to you? I makes you one of the best actors on the planet. Laurence Olivier (were he still alive)? Bring it Larry, it’s on. I can out act normalcy to yours any damned day. My whole life is one long scene that has no resolution, no curtain call, no bows. I smile, I make jokes, I converse, all the while that Gollum voice has a hold of me inside, eating away at my resolve to present myself as I always have. Make no mistake, it’s an act. Underneath, I am white-knuckling it every damned day. Nay, every damned second.
In group we talk about how the disease affects our lives and those around us – our loved ones (friends and family). It often comes up that there’s that little squinch that happens to their bodies when our friends or family ask, “how are you feeling today?” – it’s almost imperceptible but it’s there. A slight pull back of, “Just say you’re fine so I don’t have to know too much.” So, you learn to edit yourself on the fly. You lie if you have to. To comfort them. Because that’s part of the gig now. This disease has you by the proverbial throat and is whipping you around like a favorite dog chew toy but you’re expected to say, “It’s okay, I’m dealing with it,” and move on so they feel they’ve done their part to inquire, but also your part to not say what’s really fucking happening. As if by imparting some small part of it they, too, will catch it somehow. That the mere exchange will cause those cancerous cells that have clawed their way into every part of you will some how choose that moment to release themselves and fly out of your mouth and into theirs.
It’s absurd, but people react to you very differently once they know you have it. There are exceptions, certainly, I am speaking in broader terms here. Family and friends who have been exposed to others who have had cancer and actually helped them through it, get it. They ask you sincerely and there is no pulling back in their body language. They know all too well what is raging inside: the anger, the hurt, the freakish Gollum like feeling that overwhelms you at every turn.
This disease is insidious. It robs you of your normalcy. It takes, cleaves and eats away at everything you hold dear in your life. I watch others complain of everyday things like co-workers or some asshole on the freeway, etc. I want to scream at them how I’d like to have those troubles again! How dare you give me your common place problems!
Instead, I blink, holding back angry tears, and just smile as best I can and nod while listening to their simple problems in life.
Or seeing their accomplishments. One part of me, the small part that used to wholly be me, is happy for them and celebrates what they’re going through. But the majority of me grows darker, more malevolent over their happiness. I don’t want it. I fight it. I don’t always win. But I still fight. Please know, the fight is there. Fucking tears …
My husband is a tremendous support. While I try to sleep at night he is busy researching for immuno-therapies that are on the rise and are providing wondrous cures for all sorts of cancer now. We are entering a new age of treatment – one where radiation, surgery and chemo will be a thing of the past. The trouble is, they are all in clinical studies that you have to match up to. So, he combs the net at 2 to 4 in the morning searching for studies that I might be a fit for. This is the same man that examined over 3000 pages of my medical records to distill them down to a narrative that we can present to any doctor or specialist we see that gives them exactly the points they would be looking for from a doctor’s perspective – sparing them the effort to comb through those records themselves. They often thank him profusely for the effort. It shortcuts our time with them and we can get to the heart of the matter. He’s truly a superhero when it comes to my care. And it’s not easy on him. I see the toll my disease is extracting from him. He’s tired, too. Being 16 years my senior it’s quite a bit for him to take on being the caregiver in this situation. I do what I can to alleviate that as much as I can but sometimes it can’t be helped. I hate myself when he has to do something for me. Not because it takes from him insomuch as I can see clearly how much this disease has robbed me.
And to be clear about the rigors of chemo – it is different for each – mine required a hospital stay for six days. The chemo would start at 10am and continue through the day and into the night ending at 6am the following morning for EACH cycle. I had roughly three hours to be free of that pump machine they had me connected to. Oh, and to make sure that the effects of chemo weren’t too harsh I set up a maze with the pump machine that I had to navigate amongst the table tray and the side cabinet next to my bed that let me know if I could do it without hitting anything that I was still in some sort of control of my muscles. That the neuropathy that the chemo causes hadn’t crippled me to the point of not being able to maneuver as I needed to. All the while I had to fucking get through it without pissing myself. But I did it so that each time I could get through the maze of tables, cabinets and that five pronged wheeled pump machine and still make it to the bathroom I was doing good. It sounds meager, I know. But to me, it meant the world. Don’t think I am not crying a bit as I write this knowing this is the level my life has come to.
There is this pervading feeling that like Frodo you are carrying the ring to Mount Doom. And every little horrible thing it does to Frodo along the way you can completely identify with it. You can’t have a moments rest from it. You can’t put it down and walk away just to breathe and feel like it’s going to sort itself somehow. It’s a race. It’s exhausting. And your beat. Like that chew toy you feel whipped around, battered and bloodied lying in a swill of piss and mud and someone inside of you says “Get up! I’ve got more where that came from.” And you’re strong because you’ve endured. But you’re tired.
So. Very. Fucking. Tired.
Tired of editing yourself, tired of lying to others saying you’re getting through it okay when you’re not. Raging at the disease every time it whispers it’s malignance to you. Watching yourself waste away – the chemo it is said adds ten years to your life from an appearance standpoint. I see it. It’s like those years were robbed of me in just one year of fighting this disease.
Yet, I am tempered in that anger and rage because there are those in my group who have been battling it longer than I have. There are some who are resigned that there is no cure for them in sight. They manage the rest of their lives knowing that chemo will be a part of it until they take their last breath. So, I count myself lucky (so far) to be amongst them but not in their shoes. “There but for the grace of God …” right? I’m an atheist through and through but I get the meaning behind that phrase.
I just received a call from the Cancer Center that is overseeing my case as I write this post. My PET scan has been approved by my insurance. With the last of my chemo completed this is the moment where we see if it did its job in getting rid of everything. Even if it’s clean this time, I have to have another six months from now and check it then. This is the nail biting time. A recurrence can spring up at anytime if the chemo wasn’t completely successful. So, while I have gone through two full rounds (four cycles each) of chemo to address my cancer, I am still feeling shaky that it took. The reason I stand on this is that my cancer has not behaved like these types of germ cells should – slow moving and responding well to chemo. I’ve been both resistant and the disease spread from two tiny spots on one lymph node in December to spread along my lymph chain within a matter of weeks. So, no, I don’t hold out that chemo did it’s job. I am expecting something to be there and that my journey to fight this thing will rage on.
And I am scared. I am fighting for my life while trying to keep a smile on for the rest of the world to see when all I want to do is scream to the heavens “Why me?!”
I write, escaping into my novels for some refuge from the Gollum voice telling me there’s no Mount Doom in my future. If I let my characters voices clog my head I can’t hear that Gollum creature trolling around back there. But I feel the blood it extracts from me – even when I can’t hear it. I’m strong … but I’m tired.
So, very, very, tired.
Until next time … (fingers crossed)
New Year’s didn’t go so well for me. A few hours before the chiming of the new year I succumbed to a 101.9 degree fever and came to the quick realization I was down for several days ahead with the flu that I’d watched warily as my fellow co-workers and friends drop like flies around me.
But one thing all that bed-ridden time gave me was enormous time to contemplate what I had been doing up to this point. Sure, I’d been writing quite a bit. My current published works number in the 746K words range between four published works (approximately 1,913 printed pages of text), with another 718K words (or 1,836 printed pages) wrapping itself up for publication this year.
I’m sort of the James Mitchner of Gay Lit Fic … well, as far as massively sized books go.
They’re the stories I feel I need to tell. So, I write what I want to write, almost to the point of it being irrespective on how they’ll be publicly perceived. I am very much a different writer in that sort of way. I don’t require the adulation. I spent a number of years in professional theater and had my fill of what “people think” about your art. I’m no longer concerned with that – just the creation process of an evolving story. Sort of in the same vein as one of my artistic heroes: Alfred Hitchcock. For Hitch, the creative process of coming up with the plot – and more importantly sequences of events he new would stimulate the crowds visually, he was in his element. The actual casting, directing and filming bored him to tears. I get that. I truly do. If people like what I do, the stories I tell, great. I’m happy with that.
But it’s not why I write.
I am also not one of those bloggers who feel the incessant need for people to read their shit daily so they feel the need to blab about shit that 99.9% of the time they have no business blabbing about, but since no one else is doing it – if they’re lucky – then they have the table for about five precious minutes and a little fame (or sometimes infamy) can come out of it. I mean, I wish Tyler Oakley all the success he can handle, but really, what does a cis-gendered, queer white gay boy have to truly say when a great majority of his audience are straight white teeny-bopper (yeah, I know that just dated the fuck outta me) girls. From what I can tell, he doesn’t have a massive gay male following. So he’s capitalizing on queer life to the straight young female crowd. The very same crowd who often make it into our queer spaces once they reach adulthood and feel through their long audience following have some special status in our queer spaces.
Put bluntly, they don’t.
Millennial queers like to say that when queer men resent women moving into our spaces that it’s a form of misogyny – no, we’ll let lesbians and our trans brothers and sisters and any bisexuals into our queer spaces just fine, thank you very much. I have many lesbian friends that I adore the crap out of. I am not a misogynist. I just want queer spaces to be our own. But a straight woman needs to fucking understand that our spaces (and yes, our goddamned fiction and queer literature) are sacred to us. We have precious little as it is. And here’s the rub: Those night clubs and bars everyone has been ditching all of a sudden are probably going to be needed in a big way. Why? Well, a little thing called The Trump Administration.
Here’s a brief history lesson from someone who lived through our toughest and darkest times, lost so many friends that it is hard to recall them all, and survived to do our best to never forget the fight we had to get to where we are now. So those queer youth who think a social app or a hook up app will satisfy a real life gathering watering hole environment are about to learn a valuable history lesson. We’re going to need those spaces again. I’m just sayin’…
Okay, queer youth, prove me wrong. We’ll see how history will write this next chapter once Trump and crew have their way. They just tried to gut the independent ethics committee from any external oversight. They walked it back once word got out, but make no mistake, it remains one of their goals. They’ll just do it quietly … as slow methodical dismantling. Why? So there is no way to see behind the curtain of their next dastardly deed. These are truly horrific people in power now. Even George Takei sees it coming. If George can see it, that’s good enough for me. He lived through it already. He knows the warning signs. The same signs I’d been noticing since the 1980’s – yeah, kids, it’s been that long in coming. Anyone try to tell you different is a fucking fool and I am probably safe in saying they weren’t alive and of an age to understand what was going on way back then. But the GOP plan started when they successfully ousted Carter from office. That was the turning point.
My husband, who is sixteen years my senior, argues it was even started earlier when his own father (who was a superintendent of schools in Ohio) said that the GOP had started to make inroads in dismantling public education. This was in the 1950’s. I wasn’t around then, so I have to take his word for it. And I do.
And this brings me to the crux of this post. You see, I only post when I truly have something to say. I’m not one of those writers or bloggers who just have to post about those fab new sandals they just bought or some brilliantly amazing food they ate. Or even about craft. I sort of laugh when authors try to give advice about what’s correct or not.
Darlin’ everyone’s journey to get there is just that – their own. Your yellow brick road to mid-level fame and dwindling fortune may turn out to be just a piss stained sidewalk – not a yellow brick road at all. I mean, sure, share your perspective if you think something is interesting. I’m not saying you can’t (I’d never tell a writer not to write – ever). But just keep it tucked into the back of your mind that what you went through may not, in any way, come close to another writer’s journey or perspective on writing. Short cuts, learned lessons, yeah they’re helpful to a point. But really, how many wheels do you think your reinventing? I mean, honestly. Hasn’t it just become babble? That whole “pressure of speech” but with writing.
Which is what I’d been contemplating all along. And I realized what came back to me with the incoming administration was: I don’t want social media to link my shit together. I don’t want people at LinkedIn to know what I am posting in Facebook. It only provides an easy path to collect all my data. Not in a Trump age. It’s not a perfect plan and I am still working on it.
Also, as a writer it was always incumbent for us to be public figures, right? Yeah, for me, not so much. I mean from the time I grew up I didn’t have social media and I got along with people just fine. I didn’t need it. It’s a nice convenience to know what some of my beloved friends from my school days or from other venues are up to … but do I need to know EVERY facet of what’s going on? It’s a bit much. I think most peeps probably think the same of others. We spend far too much time yapping and posting to one another when we should be actively writing and using our quills to do some damage to the oppressors coming our way.
Another point I needed to consider – I recently had an email exchange with a young man living in queer hell in Indonesia. He told me the story of finding my Angels of Mercy series and how reading it gave him something to hold onto. That man, and my queer brothers and sisters like him, are the very people I write for. I don’t require adulation or praise from people whose lives are not effected by what it’s like to actually live the queer life. Allies are great, but they often forget that salient difference – you are NOT one of us. We may share a thread of humanity between us, but you will never know our pain. You may empathize until hell freezes over but it does not give you a special voice within our community. You do not know what it is like to live in our world – even if you write about us. You still have no idea what it means to live the life. This young man in that oppressed country, where their burgeoning queer activism was on the rise until their prominent leader (and their growing rights) was literally hacked by machete wielding Islamic thugs in a very public manner that completely killed any hope of freedom they had from that horrible assassination. That man, that precious soul trying to find some hope in all of his oppressed world, and his emails to me, changed everything. I know what I am meant to do.
My New Year’s resolution: (it’s two-fold) I’ve scaled my social media presence way back. Twitter, LinkedIn and other accounts can’t troll or post for me. I don’t want the connection. I want to know when something hits a certain service. I’ve also let my author page be my public presence. My personal timeline is now just that – personal, for friends and family only. I’m good with that. I’ve even disabled public presence in other social media apps or completely killed them outright and removed them. The second part of my New Year’s resolution is that I plan on writing more in both my blogs. But only when I have something to say. It’ll probably be limited to queer rights activism for my author blog, and my own queer childhood through adulthood on VioletQuillRedux. Maybe one or two postings over at WrotePodcast, too.
This is also a call to my queer brothers and sisters to take up their quills and prove the pen is far mightier than any sword pointed in our direction.
I think my efforts would be better spent using that certain John Quincy Adams passion within me to be a true pot stirrer. 1776 is one of my all-time favorite musicals. Not because of the music or the production, but because as a young lad, John Adam’s character made absolute sense to me. I got him. I got his passion and his unwavering voice in the face of adversity. Now, that I can and will be vocal about.
I’ll continue to write fiction, but I’m not going to go all out with marketing. As I said, the creation is the fun part for me. Whatever happens after, happens. It’ll get little prompting from me. Not when I have bigger battles to wage.
I may be old now, well beyond years where I would be accepted in my own queer spaces (ageism is something we are still dealing with in the community) but I still have some fight left in me. That same boy who at twelve years of age took on his local school board and challenged their decision to change my district school to a traditional school from a year-round program I’d grown up with. Yeah, I’m still very much that same twelve year old activist. It served me then (my side won), it’ll serve me now (crossed fingers).
Some might say why post about this at all if you don’t want people to “like” what you do. I’ll simply smirk and think to myself, because these postings aren’t about liking anything. They’re just my queer POV as a man who lived through one of the most hellish times in our community’s history only to find himself near the end of his days and realizing that that battle was merely the rehearsal of what is to come. We have rights now. But there is no guarantee we’ll get to keep them. Any administration that wants to remove oversight has clearly put the writing on the wall. The backlash is coming, Winter is Coming. That’s what I choose to write about.
I’ll just will have to do all the individual postings in each of my social media points of presence – or not at all. But it’ll be my choice.
I’ve never been about the sales. But I’ve always have been about the activism. With the incoming administration, that’s where my passions lie.
It’s time to pick up that John Adams hat, give it a good dusting, and get back to work.
Until next time …
Something has changed. A fundamental shift in what I am doing. You see, I’ve been writing my own life story as a series over at the Violet Quill Redux and that has made me question how I see my own works. Not just the fiction works, either, but all of it.
I’ve had moderate success in the whole Gay Fiction part to my work. Assigning that moniker to what I do seemed to be the right thing at the time I released my first work.
It was a pseudo-horror thing I was playing around with. I had been hammering out Angels of Mercy at that point, but HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega was completed and I desired to have something out there that had my name on it. Hell, on the eve of releasing HOMO, I discovered that some other twit “writer” (and I term that very loosely after reviewing their work) ended up snagging my pen name (even though I had the domain, the blog, the wherewithal to publish free chapter reads before I published on January 1 of last year) right out from under me. Originally, I was going to use S.A. Collins and up until I published on New Year’s day 2015, that name was available. Then this idiot swooped in and published a free (it had to be, because the work was atrocious) work using that S.A. name reference. I was beyond pissed. At this point I had a ton of money invested in what my author/pen name was going to be. I didn’t want to change it. So, gritting my teeth, I removed the periods from each initial and pressed forward. Now, I don’t know if my putting gay fiction out there under that name scared the squatter off, but they haven’t released anything else under that author name. But I’ve still had to go back to numerous distributors and tell them I am NOT S.A. Collins but SA Collins. It’s been a chore.
So labeling my shit as Gay Lit Fic has helped me in one respect: I’ve been able to make a fairly good imprint that I am out there as SA Collins – through the WROTE Podcast, my works, and just generally hammering away in social media as him. I say him, because he is a fictitious character in one of my future works. So in that sense, I get to put him on, and put him away when I write. I sort of like that about him. I hope he doesn’t think it an abusive relationship, because I do love him and his journey.
Okay, that is getting too headspacey, even for me.
The point I am trying to make is that I started out proudly labeling my works as GAY, GAY, GAY. In that way, I am completely unabashedly #QueerProud and make no bones about what I am writing. I want it to be provocative, to press at the edges. I LIKE BEING QUEER.
But, something occurred to me: all of my literary heroes never labeled their works as such. Not John Rechy or Gordon Merrick (my literary gods), nor did Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran, Paul Monette, or Armistead Maupin for that matter. They just wrote literary fiction, PERIOD. End of story, no debate. In doing so, they demanded that their works be taken seriously within the greater mainstream. They, too, were unapologetic in what they wrote, BUT, and here is the critical difference, they (and, to a certain extent, their publishers) were no less of a homosexual or queer writer than any of us now. Yet, they were successful at it – in the mainstream. And by mainstream I am talking best sellers on the list that mattered: the NYT best seller list.
Even now, I am seeing other works by new authors that are completely bypassing the Gay label on Amazon and simply stating it’s Fiction, letting it stand with everything else, yet not denying that it is profoundly queer. Life on a slant, as it were. Proud outliers but never feeling the need to say I’m Queer, now read my shit. It was just – hey, read my shit if you’re interested. And people did. They did it in droves, too. New York Times Best Seller kind of droves.
I’ve come to the realization that I, too, am not willing to limit my works to a gay audience. Yes, I’d love it if other queer men liked what I did. I am writing to them. But it doesn’t mean I need to limit the works in that whole M/M thing that is completely overrun with women writing about us (often as we AREN’T). I have no desire to play in that game. That literary house isn’t even mine as a gay man. It’s like I’ve been ousted from it. Yet, in my striving for acceptance and equality, I am not willing to limit the scope of my works or audience. Put it out there and let ANYONE who finds it of interest buy it and read it.
I will continue to celebrate and champion queer works. I love the community of writers I’ve come to know in that sliver of genre fiction that is currently being labeled as Gay Fiction. I just am not willing to play in that pool anymore. It’s not what I am doing, not even remotely. My works are perception works. I want other people to read and see how these men process their worlds. I am not writing to a HEA (as a rule I sort of fucking despise HEAs (Happily Ever Afters) – I want realism in my works – not just in what I write, but what I read as well). I am not opposed to an HEA that makes sense. But to open a book and know already that it’s there is sort of like sitting down to a banquet and you already have been told that dessert is in the making, what it is, how it tastes and what you should expect.
So I’ll champion my author pals who want to continue to write in that genre. Yay, team! Go you! But I want equality in what I am doing. My works need to stand with the rest of mainstream writing. I need to see where that road takes me. Maybe nowhere, but I am thinking not. I think it may be a long slog to get noticed in that arena but I think in the long run I’ll be happier that I did this.
My stories are not genre fiction in the way that gay works are defined now. They’re more than that. They’re decidedly queer. They are threaded with gay men’s experiences I’ve collected over the years. But they are also representational of the greater human condition. I specialize in character studies and perception plays. That is universal. I’m just providing a queer lens for anyone to read and see the world through those eyes. But they’re not gay fiction. Just fiction.
I’m good with that.
Until next time …
While that line is from a song in Yentl, it covers what’s been going on lately for me. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been in the blog chair. It’s something I find that I can’t do – just blog for the sake of blogging. I have to want to say something. This one took me a while to gestate and finally take shape.
Thinking back on it though, I don’t think it was because I didn’t know what I wanted to say. But because it was about those moments that are sort of milestones in your life (that sometimes come and go so quickly you scarce sense that they have any real meaning until you reflect upon them much later). I think that I knew I was going to write about them but it seemed the universe wanted me to wait a bit. It seemed that it had moments for me that I needed to observe. Things I needed to take stock of that were milestone moments. To quite simply not be in such a rush to produce.
As a writer, I am purely an artist. I don’t give a damn about whether my story is at the top of the best seller list. I wouldn’t mind it, but it’s not requisite. I’ll publish regardless. At some point I watched as my author friends publish with established boutique houses and think wow. Not because I begrudged them their success at getting a story sold. I am quite happy for them. But it was a moment where I realized I can’t compromise my voice. The stories I write must be what they are. If it means a real slow burn to find readers, well, so be it. I will persevere and write what I want to write. Uncompromising in tone and measure. No punches pulled, as they say. Well, as I say, really.
So yeah, moments.
And some may not have to do with my writing at all. I had one such moment with my granddaughter a week ago.
It was a random movie night at home. Just the grandpa’s and her. Mom was out on a date. What did the granddaughter choose? Some mindless chick flick? Some bombastic super hero or sci fi romp? No.
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That was her choice. And I couldn’t have been more proud or pleased with her. So was my husband. So we sat and watched it. It was one of those moments where I watched her as much as I watched the movie. I watched the idyllic world she had as a child fall away as she realized the horrors that people can put upon one another. In a very real way, it was a sad moment. The veil was lifted. She saw the worst in humanity (well, the worst she’s witnessed so far).
It was a moment.
Loss of childhood innocence. A reckoning that had been long in coming, when you realize for the first time the world is not the safe place you thought it was as a child.
Definitely a moment. And she chose it.
The next moment? Another movie (sensing a theme here?):
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No, not the James Bond flick of old – that’s FROM Russia With Love.
In this amazing documentary (produced by out athlete, Johnny Weir – amongst others) we encounter Vladislav Slavskiy. His story is emblematic of what our queer Russian brothers and sisters are suffering in that country. His story broke my heart. It also gave me hope. It was a revelatory moment. Why? Because I’ve always wanted to do something for them back in Russia, but my fear was that any communication from the west might make things worse for them. But Vlad’s story does have a happy ending – probably unique when it comes to our queer Russian brothers and sisters. Why was this a “moment”?
Well, because I became Facebook friends with him. I asked and he accepted. I was overjoyed at the prospect of interacting with him. I made a connection. It was just before his birthday. On that day I wished him a happy birthday and thanked him for being my new friend. He liked the post. It was a small accomplishment, but I was happy.
So about a week ago, I finally worked up the courage to ask him if he would come onto the podcast to tell his story to our listeners. Amazingly, he said yes.
A DEFINITE MOMENT. A MILESTONE. One that said loudly – Don’t fuck this up, Baz! This is a gift.
So we record that special ep tomorrow. For the first time in my life, I am nervous. I’ve performed in front of thousands on the stage and not batted an eye or had so much as one simple butterfly roaming around in my stomach. But speaking with Vlad; trying to relate his story? Yeah, I got a whole bag full of butterflies going on in there.
I want to get this right for so many reasons. None the least of which, that my granddaughter watched the movie with me and is just as excited about my talking to Vlad as I am. So yeah, young ears are listening to what I am about to do. Definite responsibility. She’s listening. She’s watching grandpa step into a very important place to help someone tell their story. And she’s a questioning queer youth – so it’s doubly important that I get it right.
When I met my very first fan (beyond my family, that is) – Michael Rumsey. You brilliant and loyal man, you!
Like the moment I met Jayne Lockwood and Vance Bastian. Two people I love immensely and can’t get enough of. They’re like a drug I don’t ever want an intervention for. They were definite moments. Milestones. The podcast is a testament to that.
Like the moment last Friday when I got to circle back with Jay Brannan at his concert here in San Francisco and thank him personally for allowing me to quote his works in my book – Angels of Mercy (I am still reeling over that generosity). He remembered the book when I spoke to him after the concert. He was so generous with his time and his attentions about my works. But that’s Jay. He gets the self-promotion – even when I know all he wants to do is go to sleep and rest. But it was a moment of accomplishment that I could provide him with a copy of the finished work. Another moment. One I’ll cherish.
I plan to get back into the blogging chair more. It’s been a while. I need to do this. Not everyday. I don’t want to ramble on about stuff that really doesn’t have much meaning. I’d rather do it when it counts.
Until next time …
So the past couple of days have had me pondering what I am doing. I mean, I’ll write no matter what. It’s what’s consuming me creatively. I’ve set aside the singing and the theater work in favor of an “all in” thrust in writing.
To be honest, I don’t know what I am doing with it all. I mean, I know what my stories are, but the mechanics of writing, editing, publishing, promoting (the part I hate the most but it’s got to be done), it’s all a journey into the vast unknown. I read blog posts like mad on the subject. I read reviews to see what people are saying about what others write (not because I am looking for the ‘next big thing’ because I know I’ll never be one of those writers). But yeah, just a general observation on it all.
So last night I spied a two star review of Angels. Needless to say I had a grim set to my mouth. I knew this was coming. It doesn’t shake me up. I’ve been in theater long enough to know that people will say what they want to say about it. There’s no debate that goes on. It’s done and over with well before you can engage. Anything after that is a mere grab for … but, but, please LIKE me! Yeah, I so am not that guy.
I guess what trips me up about it though is that the review doesn’t make sense. I mean, I get that it wasn’t for him. Fine – done dead deal but there are things under the hood that my hubby pointed out to me that said something altogether different.
The first statement is rather straight-forward and he’s entitled to his opinion. No arguments there:
Sorry, but these characters were poorly written.
Grammatically speaking he’s incorrect. I’ve had several people, many of who have been in the biz long enough and ALL have said it’s the cleanest manuscript they’ve read in a long time. My editor knows his grammar (having come from a long line of educators that stretch back to the early 1800’s – this family is VERY old skool when it comes to grammatics). As to character development itself, his sphere of those he knows in life must be woefully short of color and variation. Because each of these characters is rooted in someone real and it culls from their own lives. So uh, mmm, okay. Just sayin’…
Then there’s the next couple of lines of the review that is sort of push/pull against each other. He’s not clear about what got to him (though, make no mistake, I was pushing his buttons):
The teenage boys talk like middle aged Ivy League men that are absurdly gushing about everlasting love. These are not teenagers. Too much angst and pre-teen type of relationship. It just didn’t ring true.
So which is it? Are they Ivy League men or are they riddled with “pre-teen angsty relationship” – they can’t be both. I make it very clear that Elliot, like myself, was a cultivator of words and emotions FAR beyond his years. It was the only thing in his arsenal to make his quick getaways from bullies in school. I even make it a point to have Elliot cop to the fact that he knows it is a smoke screen, that it isn’t real. It was, in fact, how I survived school. I have this in my own writings FROM that age (sidebar: I was tested to have a college level grammar comprehension in the third grade). As I’ve said before, these situations and character points come from real life. They’re just told in a fictitious manner. So he didn’t think it rang true. He’s entitled to his opinion. I’ve no qualms there. But then we get to the meat of his ire:
And, worst of all–a cliff hanger ending. Are you kidding me?!? 540 pages and you can’t give us some sort of ending? That really annoyed me. Why invest all this time and energy in reading this pot-boiler when there is no answers to ANY of the questions raised in the story? To me, that’s unforgivable. I will not be reading this author again.
So now I knew what I was dealing with here. A M/M romance reader applying the rigid trope rules that I rail against. BINGO! I had my culprit (not that I needed one, but it was an interesting post-mortem of the review that I was curious about). So 1) The BOOK TITLE clearly states Volume One – implying there will be others. It does continue and as such, it WON’T by it’s very nature, answer questions. Volume one is concerned with posing questions, not answering them. The answers come later. 2) I emotively got to him, whether he’ll concede to that or not. So in my estimation, bang on brilliant. I WANT emotive responses to the work. Good, bad or indifferent (well, actually the indifferent ones will probably hurt me the most).
I also in the write up before you buy say it is a character study work. That means that it is more concerned with the character as he is, and not the situation he finds himself in. It is meant to walk away knowing how he processes his world. And let’s be clear about this. As first person POV, you are ONLY getting his internal voice. The reader is woefully short on Marco’s take on things. You only get a wisp of an impression of him and it’s filtered through how Elliot processes things. It’s how he hears it. We’ll get a very different voice when Marco picks up the tale in book 2.
And lastly, the dreaded cliff-hanger. Let’s talk about that one. I was warned by fellow authors I would get dinged for that. I DON’T FUCKING CARE! (My ire is not at my author buds, just to be clear – I am railing at expectations that are placed on works before the author has the platform to weave their story – that is what I am railing against) It is, what it is. If you won’t read my stuff later, bully for you. I am not going to beg for it. Move on, nothing to see here. I’ll still write. I’ll still publish. It’s not a threat to that, bud, just sayin’.
Cliff hangers, by their very nature, will never have a trite ending. They aren’t written that way. I apologize if the guy didn’t comprehend this in the write-up I have attached to the book on all of the sites, but it is clear that he didn’t read or comprehend what he was buying. He bought it thinking that it was standard romance fare. I make it abundantly clear it is not.
My hubby also pointed out one other thing to me. Why continue to read it if it was so awful a work? I’ve started many a book and pitched it aside because it didn’t do anything for me. But the hubby, ever the clinical psychiatrist he used to be in a previous professional life, pointed out that the book did get to him. The emotive response that threads his review is very clear.
The hubby’s takeaway: he has poor reading comprehension skills. Having read other reviews by him, I tend to agree. His vision of what works and what doesn’t is rather pointed and narrow. Not that I’m saying it to sooth ruffled feathers on my part. They aren’t ruffled. It is all part of me trying to understand how people process. This is what I put INTO my own works. I am truly fascinated by it all.
(Highlight it to see it, ignore this next bit if you don’t want to know about a plot point in the book – it’s fairly significant)
The cliff hanger is the physical beating Elliot (the main character) goes through at the hands of his boyfriends teammates who are through with his corrupting of their beloved captain of the team. It deals with homophobia in the worst possible way – through violence. At the end you don’t know what happens to Elliot. I knew going in that this would kick the reader hard in the rubber parts. But it is what happens. We often don’t know what the outcome will be. That was intended from the moment I started to write Angels. It’s not an easy read. It’s not meant to be. It’s not an easy thing to write. But I do want the reader to invest in Elliot and his world. He WILL rise and be greater than anyone expects from his tragedy. In a very real way, what didn’t kill him does make him stronger. Far stronger than his boyfriend can comprehend.
The hubby said that clearly the reviewer was emotively moved by it as evidenced in his real pointed angst in the work. It’s not a romance read. There will be no big bow or a litany of answers at the end. IT’S NOT THAT KIND OF BOOK.
Never was …
Moving on …
So this morning I woke up to two rather lovely things in my in-box:
It’s just a lovely thing to see this happen for Shrill/HO’M,O as it was such a clusterfuck of a novel release. Just that it was mentioned was a totally unexpected honor.
That was a lovely thing to see (esp. after the small shrug I had over the 2 star Angels review above).
And boy, did it ever kick me in the BEST possible way. So here’s the drill on why I am sort of gun shy about Angels: I feel that the work will be largely misunderstood. I know what it is, and what the intent is. But readers pick the work up with a precept of what they think they are getting when they buy it (as evidenced in my angst ridden two star review above). So when I offered it up to the reviewers at Saguaro Moon Reviews, I didn’t think they would get to it so quickly. They did, and how.
The work was only given to them a short while back so I was sort of stunned that it was out there already. The reviewer seemed think it was a page turner (good, that’s what I was hoping for) and she didn’t hold me to the hard and fast tropes of a romance read – which it’s most definitely not. Honesty in the approach was a really lovely thing to hope for. That’s all I ask. Even with the two star review above, I’ve no hard feelings about it. He’ll move onto things he enjoys more. That’s as it should be. My works are obviously too dark for his literary world. That’s okay. I’ll take that for what it is. No harm, no foul (even if he’s put off anyone else who are hard and fast in their romance tropes to give something else a try). Eh, they probably wouldn’t like it or get it either. So yeah, maybe it’s best if they don’t buy it at any rate.
Writing is a very lonely business. It’s cathartic as all hell, but it is a lonely thing. Your thoughts, your creativity on paper or on a computer screen. But it’s just you and the keyboard/pen hammering out a world word for word, feeling by feeling, with all the ups and downs of a real emotive roller-coaster.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Until next time …